One of the most important things we look for when examining the structure and function of a spine is the shape of the bones in the neck or cervical spine. A normal, healthy cervical spine should be a C-shaped curve, with the concave side facing the back. However, more often than not, we see the spine has lost the majority of this curve, and in many cases, the cervical spine is actually curved in the wrong direction. This structural misalignment is seen in older people as the spine begins to degenerate, but in today’s age, we see this a lot in younger individuals. It is now so common that doctors have coined this condition “text neck.”
What is the correlation between “texting” and the structure of the cervical spine? My mentor from my chiropractic internship used to say “the spine winds up in the position we put it in the most.” I believe this is especially true with the younger body, as the spine is still growing and developing. The Common Sense, a non-profit technology education group, recently published a study surveying 2,600 youth, finding that teens and pre-teens are spending on average anywhere from six to nine hours a day using phones or some type of media-related screen device (iPad, tablet, gaming system, etc.). The problem here is that when people use phones or tablets, their posture is often poor, with the head bent forward and looking down. Poor posture for extended periods of time, especially when the spine is developing, can result in a long-lasting problem when looking at the shape of the spine.
Many parts of the body are affected when the cervical curve is lost. Losing the alignment of your neck is similar to losing the alignment of the tires on your car. When the alignment is off, there is more stress and pressure on certain areas. This stress can cause a number of things to change, including loss of joint mobility, disc degeneration, and if left uncorrected, bone spur formation. Text neck also has an affect on the soft tissue around the spine. The muscles in the neck get stretched and could become weak, resulting in aches and pains in the neck and shoulder area. Most importantly, the spinal cord is lengthened when the curve is lost. Stress on the spinal cord in the neck could have an impact on the entire body, as the whole nervous system has to run through the neck as it passes from the brain to the body, and vice versa. Dr. Alf Breig, a Neurosurgeon and Nobel Prize Recipient highlighted this correlation, stating, “The loss of the cervical curve stretches the spinal cord 5-7cm and causes disease.”
Fixing text neck, like anything else, should start by addressing the problem: posture. This is something I am guilty of, and have to constantly remind myself to avoid letting my head drop forward when using my phone or anything else in front of me. Next, the function of the spine has to be addressed. If the curve is misaligned and the motion of the joints is restricted, we first have to get the bones moving properly before working on alignment. This is where chiropractic comes into play because there is no better way to increase joint mobility than getting an adjustment. Once the bones are able to move freely, corrective exercises should then be used to realign the spine. These exercises include lengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are tight, and strengthening those soft tissues that are weak. Many of the therapies and exercises we do in office are directly related to these corrections. This is a process that may take some time and effort, but can definitely be achieved!
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex
Project Wellness Company Madison, WI
For an example of one of the therapies that we do in the office to address "text neck" check out this video from Dr. Kyle.